Syrian novelist bares revolution’s inner struggles

Syrian novelist Samar Yazbek examines the moral ambiguities of her country’s rebellion, in a Washington Post guest-op, “The novelist vs. the revolutionary: My own Syrian debate”:

Samar Yazbek

Samar Yazbek

The revolutionary, who has met with leaders of Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and other influential jihadist battalions, is gripped by fear at what they represent. But she believes that Assad has encouraged them, knowing that an unsavory alternative to his regime makes the international community hesitant to intervene.

* * *

The novelist regrets that the opposition movement has evolved from its peaceful origin. She refuses to condone, let alone applaud, armed uprisings. “Isn’t political opposition the better alternative?” she meekly suggests.

* * *

These two women crash about beneath my skin, colliding at every twist and turn of this unfinished narrative. But there’s one thing they agree on: Anything that might bring a definitive end to the murderous Assad and his regime is a force for good. The question is: Does the world really want to stop these atrocities, or is it happy to stand by and watch?

Jon Stewart does it again!

Following up on comments about Secretary of State John Kerry’s “hypotheticals”:

John Stewart and I must have been on the same wavelength:


I’m not sure I buy the bungling Mr. Magoo caricaturization of Kerry. I like my fly-fishing image. Putin has confirmed that, as both Kerry and President Obama have suggested, Obama and Putin discussed Syria’s handing over its chemical weapons to avoid attack during the G20 summit last week at St. Petersburg. Kerry’s tossing the notion out at a London news conference Tuesday morning seemed like the skillful cast of a carefully-tied attractor pattern:

“Is there anything at this point that [Assad’s] government could do or offer that would stop an attack?” Kerry was asked, apparently by a reporter.

Sure. He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week. Turn it over, all of it, without delay and allow a full and total accounting for that. But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done.

Sounds like a nice, concise statement of an acceptable alternative to an act of war. Almost immediately, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov rose to the bait, followed shortly later by Syria’s foreign minister and an assent from Iran. That’s some pretty fine fishing in my opinion. What the catch looks like and who lands it (to distort the metaphor somewhat) may be another matter. But do we really care if the Russians work out the details of ridding Syria of those weapons so long as it gets done? In the meantime, the president and Congress can get back to trying to run this country.



Kerry’s hypotheticals

John Kerry - Caricature

John Kerry – Caricature (credit: DonkeyHotey)

In the past week US Secretary of State John Kerry has offered two apparently off-the-cuff “hypotheticals,” but I wonder….

As I noted here a week ago in “Syriously? Another War?”: During the Senate foreign affairs committee hearing, NJ Sen. Robert Menendez asked Kerry whether the authority-to-use-military-force resolution could be narrowed to exclude authority to “put US boots on the ground.” Kerry painted a scarey scenario in which troops might need to be called in to protect the Syrian chemical arsenal from falling into extremist hands if the Assad regime fell:

But in the event Syria imploded, for instance, or in the event there was a threat of a chemical weapons cache falling into the hands of al-Nusra or someone else and it was clearly in the interest of our allies and all of us, the British, the French and others, to prevent those weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of the worst elements, I don’t want to take off the table an option that might or might not be available to a president of the United States to secure our country.

Later, Kerry “clarified”:

All I did was raise a hypothetical question about some possibility — and I’m thinking out loud — about how to protect America’s interests. But if you want to know whether there’s any — you know, the answer is, whatever prohibition clarifies it to Congress and the American people, there will not be American boots on the ground with respect to the civil war.

I thought Kerry had slipped up; now, I’m not so sure. He clearly qualified that there would not be US boots on the ground with respect to the civil war.” That left the possibility that US personnel could be called on to protect and neutralize Syria’s chemical weapons if necessary. Kerry’s seeming equivocation I think fueled some of the opposition that has slowed the resolution’s progress through Congress. It also focused on chemical weapons.
Monday, responding to a question from a reporter in London about avoiding war, Kerry said that Assad could “turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week.” He quickly qualified that Assad “isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done.” The State Dept. followed up immediately with further “clarification” that Kerry’s statement was “rhetorical” and “hypothetical.”

A day later, Kerry’s supposedly off-hand slip had blossomed into some serious diplomatic maneuvering to craft an agreement that may place Syria’s chemical weapons under international control and avoid the direct US attack being threatened a few days ago. Almost immediately, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov approved of Kerry’s remarks: “We will immediately start working with Damascus.”

It now turns out that the “Russian gambit,” as some are calling it, was under discussion since Obama and Putin talked at the G20 meetings last week. On Tuesday (today), Kerry was in a Google+ hangout about Syria with Lara Setrakian of Syria Deeply and New York Times columnist Nick Kristof. Setrakian asked Kerry how this new direction in Syria policy came about. Kerry:

We’ve had conversations about chemical weapons for some period of time… more specifically, we discussed this last week, Sergey Lavrov and I discussed it, President Putin discussed it with President Obama in St. Petersburg, and President Obama instructed him that “he would take it up on the foreign minister level….I obviously mentioned it in public in London on Monday and we are where we are today.”

John Kerry may be a better statesman than he first appears. I’ll bet he’s a pretty fair fly-fisherman, too.

One other thought: I know it might complicate matters and throw a monkey-wrench into the immediacy of the situation, but while we’re at it, how about putting all chemical weapons under international control and destroying them. Then, next week we can work on nukes!

Just sayin’.

Yale Law Profs: On Syria, a U.N. Vote Isn’t Optional

In a New York Times guest-op, Oona A. Hathaway and Scott J. Shapiro, Yale Law School professors make clear that a unilateral US attack on Syria would be in violation of international law and treaties:

If the United States begins an attack without Security Council authorization, it will flout the most fundamental international rule of all — the prohibition on the use of military force, for anything but self-defense, in the absence of Security Council approval. This rule may be even more important to the world’s security — and America’s — than the ban on the use of chemical weapons.

President Obama, is meeting with world leaders at the G-20 confab in St. Petersburg. If he has such an iron-clad case against Assad, he can use his charm, organizing and legal skills to bring the rest of the world along toward a Kosovo kind of solution to this similar mess. It’s a shame that the UN is powerless.

Syriously? Another War?!

No matter how narrowly you try to define it, lobbing missiles into another country is an act of war. The term was carefully avoided in the US Senate foreign relations committee today. The unquestioned assumption seemed to be that the US military can act with impunity and no repercussions. Secretary of State Kerry, however, made a scarey slip when asked if the Authority to Use Military Force resolution could be narrowed to exclude authority to “put US boots on the ground.” Kerry painted a scenario in which US troops might need to be called in to protect the Syrian chemical arsenal from falling into the wrong hands if the Assad regime fell.

A part of me wants to believe that President Obama is using the time and cover of the workup to a congressional decision on attacking Syria to direct some serious behind-the-scenes diplomacy to avoid the need. I’d hoped we’d gotten beyond the old “my rocket’s bigger than yours” approach to foreign policy with this president.

The cynical part of me fears that our national testosterone overload has the president drawing a bloody line in the shifting Middle Eastern sand that he feels he must defend even though the sands have obscured his vision of the line and its purpose. When it comes to retribution, we’re dealing with people who have blood-feuds running through their veins.

French spies report that the Syrian regime has hundreds of tons of sarin, mustard and VX gases in its sophisticated chemical weapons arsenal. If Bashar al-Assad has actually ordered the gassing of his people, offer him some simple choices—amnesty from a trial at the Hague in exchange for stepping down; otherwise he’s overthrown and/or assassinated. He’s got to see where this is headed, but maybe he can’t.


Wow! The president listens…

President Obama has just announced that he is going to Congress  as soon as it reconvenes with his plan to attack Syria. This will take a few days, time for the Russians to talk sense to Assad.

And, time for US to ask our senators and representative in Congress not to authorize an act of war, to press for a diplomatic solution, and to pursue whoever is responsible for the the mass murder of civilians (by gas or other means) and bring them to justice, using precision, police action if necessary.

In Idaho, you can email them at the following links:

Sen. Mike Crapo:

Sen. Jim Risch:

Rep. Mike Simpson:

Congressman Labrador’s email isn’t working for me.

…hurling US into the Abyss

What can we do to halt our government’s hurling us deeper into the Middle East quagmire—a tar pit of ancient blood spilled in unfathomable rivalries? The Brits, who were largely responsible for throwing rival tribes together into make-believe nations as their own empire was vanishing, have the good sense to stay out of this particularly nasty dust-up. A US military attack on Syria is folly.

English: Dust storm in the Middle East

Dust storm in the Middle East (Wikipedia photo)

   I listened to both the Secretary of State and the President lay out their case, and found it wanting. Kerry’s evidence was circumstantial; I doubt it would stand up in any court—in spite of his repeated assertions that “we know.”
    I’ve sent a couple emails to the White House today and signed a couple petitions urging no acts of war against Syria. The government should make its case before Congress and the court of world opinion, finger the perpetrators, bring them to justice with precise, police action. If the president must exercise his machismo, challenge Assad to hand-to-hand combat, a duel, whatever. Just don’t drag the rest of us into another senseless war in a country we don’t understand.

White House comment line: 202-456-1111 or to send an email:

A couple petitions:

To the president:

To Congress: